A fitting farewell for Gardner

2013-10-19 00:00

SOCCER player, family man, academic and “indefatigable committee man”. These were just some of the words used to describe Professor Colin Gardner at a requiem mass at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Pietermaritzburg yesterday. Father Neil Frank officiated at the packed service.

Gardner’s wife Mary and children Margie, Cathy, Libby, Richard and David, were joined under the graceful arches of the church by friends, former university colleagues and anti-apartheid activists who had worked with him in many different forums over several decades.

He was carried down the aisle in a simple raw wood coffin decorated with a bunch of white flowers. Mary spoke about “his tremendous depth of commitment to people’s wellbeing”, his tolerance and good humour. He enjoyed watching Fawlty Towers and, while not very handy, “quite enjoyed mowing”.

“Google was a delight,” she said, because he enjoyed following his children on maps as they moved around the world.

Eulogist and former colleague Douglas Irvine said Gardner had come to Pietermaritzburg as a schoolboy and his life had been shaped by the city.

“Words were Colin’s trade,” he said, adding that Gardner was a thoughtful voice, although “an irritant and a gadfly to some”.

“He had strong opinions and loved argument and good debate.”

Irvine described how Gardner was for many years the university’s official orator and, when he was elected to the city’s transitional local council in 1996, was the speaker.

He said Gardner was a long-standing member of the Liberal Party — the only fully non-racial political organisation in the 1950s — and was the last acting chairperson of the party until it was outlawed.

While he supported great causes he also had concern for small people, and was a member of the Detainees’ Support Committee, which cared for the families of political detainees.

“He was a veray parfit gentil knight,” said Irvine, quoting Geoffrey Chaucer. In other words, generous and civilised, a true gentleman.

The programme contained words written by Gardner on death:

“I must try to get my life’s dilemmas

into a richer wider view.

An old man dying. There’s nothing tragic.

It’s what old men are meant to do.”

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